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Love fish? Here’s the catch

Current global crisis adds allure to ‘eco-friendly’ seafood, but finds can be ‘reel’ challenging

Employee Ricardo Cota holds a fresh white sea bass at Rodriguez Seafoods, 3541 S. 12th Ave. The Seafood Watch program lists it among its "best choices"in its West Coast guide. It is more readily available there than in the Southwest.

Employee Ricardo Cota holds a fresh white sea bass at Rodriguez Seafoods, 3541 S. 12th Ave. The Seafood Watch program lists it among its "best choices"in its West Coast guide. It is more readily available there than in the Southwest.

The old ’60s refrain about choosing to be “part of the problem or part of the solution” has gained a lot of recent traction when it comes to the global fish crisis.

Programs such as Monterey Bay (Calif.) Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and Environmental Defense’s Oceans Alive seek to make the public aware of the power they can wield by making seafood choices that are healthy and ecologically beneficial.

“Basically, we’ve taken 90 percent of the big fish out of the ocean and now we’re fishing down the food chain,” says Sheila Bowman, Seafood Watch’s spokeswoman. “And we have fishing and farming practices that are damaging and polluting the ecosystem for what little there is left.”

Tucson has been a leader in the effort to promote sustainable practices, she says, pointing out efforts by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Tucson Originals, a group of locally owned independent restaurants.

“Just because of the nature of the independents as opposed to the chains, we’re a little more sensitive to these issues, because we’re not all about the bottom line,” says Originals member Mitch Levy, chef-owner of Cuvée World Bistro.

He says the nature of the Originals means members are quick to share the latest information, often by e-mail.

Fellow Originals member and Acacia chef-owner Albert Hall has long been a proponent of sustainable fishing practices.

But even Hall, who subscribes to a couple of newsletters that keep him up to date on seafood concerns, says his restaurant couldn’t survive if he offered only the most environmentally sustainable fish on his menu.

“You have to be able to offer a nice variety of seafood, and honestly, what’s on that list is very, very limited,” he says.

In cases where he uses less environmentally sustainable fish, he seeks out vendors and suppliers who use different fishing or farming practices.

“There’s a guy in British Columbia, for example, that does farmed salmon. But it’s raised naturally, not fed growth hormones or antibiotics, and what they’re fed is organic and as good as you’re going to get in farmed product,” he says.

Fortunately, in many cases, the best ecological choice is also the best culinary choice.

“Typically, the best product I can find is the stuff that is a little more eco-friendly,” he says.

Every six months, Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes Seafood Watch guides, updating information on sustainable seafood choices available in different regions of the U.S.

Monterey Bay’s Sheila Bowman says it added its Southwest region guide last year, in large part due to the work of Rick Brusca, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s executive program director.

“The development of the Southwest regional guide is really important, particularly because of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico,” Bowman says. “We don’t see things like totoaba and sea turtles in the other regions.” While sea turtles aren’t on the menu at U.S. restaurants, they are available in Mexico. Part of the goal is to give people a tool for when you do travel south of the border and do see things like this served up in restaurants.”


Fish that are abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.

Southwest region guide

Albacore tuna (British Columbia, U.S. trolled or pole caught)

Barramundi (U.S. farmed)

Bay scallops (farmed)

Catfish (U.S. farmed)

Clams (farmed)

Dungeness crab

Mussels (farmed)

Oysters (farmed)

Pacific cod (Alaska longline caught)

Pacific halibut

Pollock (U.S. caught in Alaska)

Rainbow trout (farmed)

Salmon (wild-caught in Alaska)

Skipjack tuna (troll/pole)

Spiny lobster (Pacific Ocean, Baja coast wild)

Striped bass (farmed)

Sturgeon (farmed)

Tilapia (U.S. farmed)

(Good options, but experts have some concerns about how they’re caught or farmed, or with the environmental impact on their habitat.)

American/Maine lobster

Bigeye tuna (trolled or pole caught)

Blue crab

Canned tuna

Clams (wild-caught)

Flounder/sole (U.S. and Canadian Pacific Ocean)

Imitation crab (made from various fish)

Jumbo squid

King crab (Alaska)

Mahi mahi/dolphinfish (U.S.)


Oysters (wild-caught)

Sea scallops (northeastern U.S. and Canada)

Shrimp (U.S. Atlantic Ocean, U.S. Gulf of Mexico)

Snow crab (U.S.)

Swordfish (U.S., including Hawaii, longline)

Yellowfin tuna (troll or pole)

Fish caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.

Southwest region guide
Albacore tuna (worldwide,

except Hawaii longline)

Atlantic cod

Atlantic halibut

Atlantic sole

Bigeye tuna (longline caught)

Bluefin tuna

Chilean sea bass

Flounder/sole (U.S. Atlantic



Gulf corvina (Gulf of California)

King crab (Russia)

Mahi mahi/dolphinfish (imported



Orange roughy

Rockfish (trawl-caught)

Salmon (farmed)

Sea turtles


Shrimp (imported)

Snapper (imported)

Spiny lobster (Caribbean imported)

Sturgeon (imported, wild-caught)

Totoaba (wild-caught)

Yellowfin tuna (longline)


Here’s a list of best and worst seafood choices based on health issues.

“Best” choices are fish that are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in environmental contaminants. “Worst” choices are high in mercury or polychlorinated biphenals, PCBs.



Arctic char (farmed)

Atlantic herring (U.S., Canada)

Atlantic mackerel

Atlantic mahi mahi (U.S.)

Bay scallops (farmed)

canned pink wild salmon (Alaska)

Caviar (U.S. farmed)

Clams (farmed)

Crawfish (U.S.)

Dungeness crab

Mussels (farmed)

Northern shrimp (Canada),

Oregon pink shrimp (U.S. farmed)

Oysters (farmed)

Pacific halibut (U.S.)

Sablefish/black cod (Alaska)

Sockeye wild salmon (Alaska)


Snow crab (Canada)

Spot prawns

Stone crab

Striped bass (farmed)

Sturgeon (U.S. farmed)

Tilapia (U.S.)

Atlantic cod

Atlantic halibut

Bluefin tuna

Caviar (wild)

Chilean sea bass/toothfish



Shrimp/prawns (imported)



Sturgeon (wild)

Swordfish (imported)



What it is: A heavy frame attached to a mesh bag is dragged along the seafloor, usually to catch bottom-dwelling shellfish.

Why it’s bad: Causes significant habitat damage. Other marine life is unintention- ally caught, then discarded.

What it is: A central fishing line a mile to more than 50 miles long with smaller lines of baited hooks at spaced intervals.

When it’s bad: Hung near the surface they unintentionally catch endangered sea turtles and sharks.

When it’s good: U.S. crews sink their longlines deeper, avoiding sea turtle migration routes. They also use “circle” hooks to more easily release unwanted species.

What it is: Boats tow a cone-shaped net at various depths.

Why it’s bad: They catch everything in their path. They can damage the seafloor.

What it is: A boat tows fishing lines behind or alongside the boat.

Why it’s good: Lines are reeled in soon after fish take the bait, so unwanted catch can be quickly released from hooks.

What it is: Aquaculture uses a variety of methods to grow or breed fish or shellfish in marine or fresh water. Fish farms provide one-third of the world’s seafood.

When it’s bad: When carnivores – shrimp, salmon, tuna – are farmed, they require feed made from wild fish. It creates new demand that wild fisheries can’t meet.

When it’s good: When omnivores and vegetarians, such as tilapia, are farmed, they require inexpensive, vegetable-based foods.

Eat Tucson: Our blog chews over what’s new and exciting on the local dining scene.
Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch programSource: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch programSource: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch programSource: Environmental Defense’s Oceans AliveSource: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program

17th Street Market is one of a handful of popular local retail fish markets.

17th Street Market is one of a handful of popular local retail fish markets.



Don’t settle for fishy smelling fish, because you don’t have to.

The longtime yarn that you can’t get good, fresh seafood in Tucson has been patently false for a good decade or so.

The great equalizer for Tucson and other landlocked markets was the airplane, and specifically Fed-Ex, says Dan Scordato, chef-owner of Vivace.

“The fish here is really great now, because it’s all basically Fed-exed overnight,” he says. “The only difference from cities like San Francisco or New York is that instead of a truck delivering it overnight, it’s a plane, but it gets here just as fresh and actually quicker in a lot of cases.”

The first job chef-owner Albert Hall of Acacia ever had was as a fishmonger in Washington, D.C. He later worked at a lodge on the Oregon coast that was the only restaurant licensed to buy direct from the fishermen. You’d assume that to be a tremendous advantage over a place like Tucson, he says. But not so.

“When the salmon came in, it was really fresh, and when the oysters came in, they were really fresh,” Hall recalls. “Other than that, the seafood there was terrible. I could not get good seafood on the Oregon coast to save my life.”

Hall and other local chefs have fish brokers with access to scores of vendors, allowing immediate orders of monkfish from Boston, tuna from Hawaii, salmon from Alaska and more.

“You order it and it’s there the next day before 10 a.m.,” Hall says. “Basically ever since the airplane, it’s been great.”

The best test for gauging the freshness of seafood is still the easiest one, Hall notes.

“If it smells like fish, it’s not fresh, and that’s the bottom line,” he says.




The global fish problem, outlined in this month’s cover story in National Geographic, is fourfold:

> Overfishing on a scale that cannot be sustained

> Habitat damage

> Aquaculture methods that adversely affect nearby ecosystems

> Countless thousands of fish and animals are inadvertently caught and killed, then discarded.




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